President Trump messaged Wednesday that he has decided to bar transgender individuals from serving “in any capacity” in the U.S. armed forces, a policy that could affect thousands of Americans now in uniform and others hoping to serve.
In a decision he disclosed on Twitter, Trump said the military would not “allow or accept” transgender service members, reversing a policy begun by the Obama administration last year.
It wasn’t immediately clear what would happen to transgender service members now in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Estimates vary widely, from about 1,300 to 16,000 members of the armed services who are transgender.
A Pentagon spokesman described Trump’s Twitter post as “new guidance” rather than an order from the commander-in-chief, and said the Pentagon would issue “revised guidance” to the military “in the near future.”
LGBT groups vowed to challenge Trump in court, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, all but urged the Pentagon to ignore the tweet, saying there is “no reason” to change current policy.
In a series of tweets, the president said he had consulted with “my Generals and military experts” in deciding to reverse the current policy.
“Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail,” he wrote.
A study commissioned by the Pentagon last year found the expected medical costs to be negligible.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis is out of Washington on vacation this week and the Pentagon appeared caught off guard by the president’s tweet. Military officials referred all questions to the White House.
“We will continue to work closely with the White House to address the new guidance provided by the Commander-in-Chief on transgender individuals serving the military,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said in a statement. “We will provide revised guidance to the Department in the near future.”
Democrats in Congress, as well as several senior Republicans, offered strong support for transgender individuals serving honorably, and condemned Trump’s tweet.
“Any American who meets current medical and readiness standards should be allowed to continue serving,” McCain said in a statement. “There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy to leave the military – regardless of their gender identity.”
He said the Defense department is conducting a study on the medical obligations, impact on military readiness and other questions regarding transgender individuals who want to join the military.
“I do not believe that ay new policy decision is appropriate until that study is complete and thoroughly reviewed by the Secretary of Defense, our military leadership and the Congress,” McCain added.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, (R-Utah) also announced his opposition.
“I don’t think we should be discriminating against anyone,” he said. “Transgender people are people and deserve the best we can do for them.”
The LGBT community vowed to go to federal court to challenge Trump’s decision on transgender people in uniform. .
“We are going to fight for them as hard as they are fighting for the country,” the OutServe-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a Washington-based group that seeks LGBT equality in the military, said in a statement.
The legal group estimates about 16,000 transgender individuals currently serve in the military.
Last July, the Pentagon lifted a long-standing ban against transgender men and women serving openly in the military, removing one of its last discriminatory hurdles and placing protection of gender rights on par with race, religion, color, sex and sexual orientation.
The policy part of the Obama administration’s Force of the Future initiative, which aimed to make the strait-laced, male-dominated U.S. military more inclusive.
In 2015, the administration opened all combat positions to women and in 2016 appointed the first openly gay Secretary of the Army, Eric K. Fanning.
The Obama policy allowed transgender service members currently on duty to immediately serve openly. Armed services had to come up with medical and training plans and until July 1, 2017, for full implementation. The Trump administration initially pushed that date back, and now has reversed the policy.
The Pentagon says it does not know how many transgender people serve in uniform because until last year, they faced discharge if they revealed their identities.
A 2016 study by Rand Corp., the Santa Monica-based think tank, estimated 6,630 transgender individuals were in active military service. The total force is about 1.3 million.
The Rand study, commissioned by the Pentagon, estimated that between 30 and 140 new hormone treatments a year could be initiated by transgender service members under the Obama-era opening. It also predicted 25 to 130 gender transition-related surgeries a year among active service members.
As a result, it said, military healthcare costs could increase by $2.4 million to $8.4 million a year — a 0.13% increase in current medical spending.
Gender reassignment surgery and other treatment deemed medically necessary by a physician was to be covered under the policy.
Prior to the Obama rule, the Pentagon banned transgender troops from openly serving. If they revealed their transgender identity, they could be kicked out or denied reenlistment.
In the most famous case, former Army Pvt. Chelsea E. Manning had treatment while in a military prison after a court martial convicted her in 2013 of leaking classified material to Wikileaks while serving in Iraq. Obama pardoned her just before he left office and she was released from prison in May.
Manning mocked Trump’s decision in her own tweets Wednesday.
“so, biggest baddest most $$ military on earth cries about a few trans people but funds the F-35? sounds like cowardice ,” she wrote.